If Mark Machtolf were being completely honest, the Gonzaga baseball coach might prefer that the West Coast Conference wait another year to begin its postseason tournament.
After all, the first-place Bulldogs (28-14-1, 15-6 WCC) need only a sweep of last-place and winless Santa Clara (10-32, 0-18) this weekend to clinch at least a share of the WCC regular-season championship, and they hold tiebreakers over every team except for Loyola Marymount (21-22, 9-9).
So while it seems more likely than not that Gonzaga will emerge from the regular season as the WCC’s top seed, there will still be work to do for the Bulldogs to assure themselves of a spot in the NCAA regionals.
Last season, the regular-season champion automatically advanced to the NCAAs. Simple as that.
This season, it’s not so simple. If Gonzaga wishes to leave its fate out of the hands of the selection committee, it must also win three games from March 23-25 at the WCC baseball championship in Stockton, Calif., where the WCC’s top four teams will play a double-elimination, regional-style tournament to determine which team will receive the conference’s automatic bid.
But Machtolf is just fine with the format.
“Overall, I think it’s really good for our conference, and it gives teams a chance to get quality wins late,” Machtolf said. “And so the whole push is to get multiple teams into the regional.”
Gonzaga’s at-large chances appear murky. The Bulldogs have a better overall record than any other team in their conference, but ranked 89th in this week’s RPI. That’s lower than four WCC teams: San Diego, BYU, Loyola Marymount and San Francisco.
Of course, chances remain for Gonzaga to pad its resume with quality wins. The Bulldogs finish their regular-season schedule with two games at No. 6 Oregon and a game at California.
Not that Machtolf is looking past Santa Clara. The coach warned that despite their 0-18 conference record, the Broncos have played a few close games, including a tough three-game sweep at the hands of San Francisco that saw each game decided in extra innings.
“I think we’re to the point where they should know that. We’ll continue to not take anything for granted, of course,” Machtolf said. “We’ve been doing that since Day One, whoever we play. They’ve seen all the other teams in the conference. There hasn’t been a conference team where we can say, ‘We shouldn’t lose a game to these guys.’ They’ve all been really, really tough series.”
Gonzaga plays its final three home games next weekend against Appalachian State. It may be the final chance for Gonzaga fans to watch junior Marco Gonzales, a preseason All-American who is projected as a potential first-round pick in this summer’s Major League Baseball draft.
Gonzales, who is 6-2 with a 2.77 ERA and also leads the team with a .338 batting average, was named Thursday to the 60-player watch list for the Golden Spikes Award, which is given annually to the top collegiate baseball player in the country.
The Cougars (20-20, 7-11 Pac-12) play their final three home games of the conference season in Pullman this weekend when No. 6 Oregon visits Bailey-Brayton Field. The Cougars travel to Portland for a nonconference game against the Pilots on Monday. Redshirt freshman third baseman Nick Tanielu, who led the team in hitting before injuring his left knee, has missed WSU’s last 11 games.
The season will end for the Pirates in Lewiston at the Inland Cellular Tournament hosted by Lewis-Clark State on Saturday and Sunday. Whitworth (13-23-1, 8-16 in Northwest Conference), finished seventh in the NWC.